WHEN I was a child, I used to lay beside my mother and press my ear against her soft, warm belly. I would close my eyes and imagine the world inside her, on how the rice grains travelled from her stomach to her intestines after every meal and listen to the grumbling sounds which became my lullaby. While it is true that my mother was passionate about books and stories in her youth, I never fell asleep while listening to her reading or when sharing one. I would fall asleep every time I listen to the enticing borborygmi created by the movements of her intestines.
Lying beside her is one of the most peaceful places in the world. And then one day, chaos came in the real world and inside my head.
In May 1999, while sitting outside our house, my father saw the kitchen of an apartment building nearby. It’s on fire.
“Fire! Fire! There’s a fire!” he shouted at the top of his lungs as he pointed his finger to the apartment’s window on the second floor.
The people in the neighborhood were alerted. Confusion surfaced. My mother approached my father to calm him down. But she’s too late. He’s having a heart attack. Again. The second time in the past year and the third time in his lifetime. I shed tears. I was too preoccupied to process the whole scene that I peed in my shorts.
They rushed him to the hospital. He stayed there for months. During that period, our youngest and I only heard bits of news. We were not allowed to make a visit for we were warned that the hospital was full of sick people and we might get infected. My mother never showed any sign of weakness.
In July 1999, two weeks before my 9th birthday, on a round, wooden table with nothing on top of it, I heard the saddest news. “Tatay is gone… He passed away earlier today” our eldest sibling said who just came from the hospital. I didn’t know how to react or what to say. There was silence. And then cries of longing.
For a few weeks, after the death of my father, I’ve not seen my mother smiled even once.
I wondered how she would manage the gargantuan task of raising a big family like ours of 8 members. We were still attending school. Our eldest sibling was still in college. How about the tuition fees? How about the daily expenses? How can a laundrywoman and part-time dressmaker shoulder everything?
I still remember how she pleaded the sari-sari store owners in our place to lend us their canned goods, rice, instant noodles, etc. for our meals. We were turned down multiple times and despised at because we couldn’t pay our debts on time. There were times when we would skip meals. Our relatives on the other hand have been so supportive to make our situation better. But the support was not enough. It was one of the lowest moments of our lives.
My mother always said: “Someday, we’ll get over this.”
Looking back, all we could do is to smile. I understood everything that happened then. I still couldn’t believe that we survived and continued to fight all because of my mother who stood by her principles. All of her children graduated from college and I know that she’s proud about it.
Whenever I had an assignment about essay writing in grade school, she was there like a hero who’s always ready to rescue the one in need. I didn’t know how to compose a sentence or recognize an independent clause then. She has shown me the wonders of stories and on how to spark the curiosity of the readers. In public speaking, she shared the importance of confidence and on how the manner by which you stand in front of everyone else can either leave them fascinated or disappointed.
My mother is our family doctor. I couldn’t remember a time that she did not take special care of any of us, her children when we’re sick. She would buy the necessary medicines, have us drink Gatorade to avoid being dehydrated and would prepare and apply wet cloth on our foreheads to lower the body temperature. Even her siblings, my aunts and uncles, would contact her for advice when it comes to health issues. We’ve become witnesses of a woman who stayed in hospitals for months because of my father’s condition. And by that, she gained experiences and tons of information for simple types of sickness.
My mother will turn 63 in October this year. She’s a senior citizen and the evidence of her old age is her constant complaint of body aches. Another proof is whenever she willingly and proudly waves her senior citizen I.D. at Jollibee, Chowking and Mercury Drug Store for discount on her purchases and in theaters in Makati City to watch a movie for free.
I stare at my mother whenever I have a chance and ask her random questions like, “What is your favorite color, or favorite food, or what place do you want to visit next, ‘Nay?” I go on a date with her every time it is possible.
Whenever I felt down or it seemed like the world has revolted against me, whenever I had a bad dream, I would lay beside her. I would press my ear against her belly and she knew our routine: I would embrace her, kiss her, and close my eyes. And finally, I would whisper: “I’m thankful and grateful to God that you’re here and you’re my mom. Thank you for your courage and love. I love you, ‘Nay.”